Friday, May 29, 2009

Goat Cheese Goodness

I may have found a new favourite cheese. Well, as much as I can have a single favourite cheese! You see, I'm a bit of a cheese whore; and I like my cheese bold and flavourful.

This past weekend I was introduced to Cap Rond, a pasteruized goat's milk cheese made by the Torilli farm, a fromagerie artisinale in St-Raymond-de-Portneuf, north-west of Quebec city. It's a mold-ripened, ash-coated cheese with a natural crust and a strong flavour reminiscent of blue cheeses. If you're not fond of the rind, the centre of the cheese is rich is creamy. It costs abut $6 per 100g round.

At the same time I was also introduced to another local artisinale cheese. Jac le Chevrier is a soft mold-ripened goat cheese produced in St. Flavien, south-west of Quebec city. It has a rich, but slightly milder and chalkier flavour. The producer is certified eco-cert organic and is designated "responsable" by la Coopérative TendreVert. It costs about $9 per round.

Both cheese are available at Fromagerie Atwater in Atwater market, and no doubt at other fine cheese stores across the province.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Stretching Out the Meat

There is no denying it. Organic or small farm, local meat is not cheap. I order mine in bulk once or twice per year directly from the farm. This helps keep the costs down, but the price per kilogram is still much higher than what I'd pay at the grocery store for the conventionally-farmed variety. To stay in budget, preparing meat in the quantities common in many North American recipes is simply not an option for me. Neither is buying conventionally-farmed meat. So what to do?

One of the simplest solutions is to stretch out the meat. The trick is to make the recipe still feel meaty. This is easier in some recipes than others.

Stews are simple. For example, over the weekend I made a crock-pot stew for six using about 500g of stewing beef. To stretch out the beef, I added 2 cups of pre-cooked red kidney beans and 500g of mushrooms. The stew was served along-side baked potatoes and green beans. We all left the table full from a hearty meal. None of us missed the smaller portions of meat in the stew. We even had leftovers!

The addition of beans and mushrooms is one of my favourite ways of stretching out meat. They both tend to have a hearty flavour and texture, and are a good source of B-vitamins, folate, and some minerals. Beans are also relatively high in protein and add valuable fibre to our diets.

Meat loaf is another favourite in our household. Here I tend to do one of two things (or sometime both): mashed black beans or 'ground' TVP (textured vegetable protein) soaked in a Marmite broth. My preference is for the black beans since these are less processed. I use canned or pre-cooked beans, and mash them with a potato masher before adding them into the recipe.

Mashed black beans, TVP or crumbled tempeh are great additions to bulk up chili, spaghetti sauces or hearty stews and soups. I tend to avoid prepared vegetarian ground-beef substitutes because of the high sodium content and the high processing factor.

If you have suggestions, I'd love to hear them.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Guilt-Free Diner-ing in Vancouver

Nestled away on the rougher edge of downtown Vancouver on Granville street, from the outside The Templeton looks like a typical run of the mill diner (or greasy spoon as we call them in Quebec)--the inside as well for that matter. Its long single room has about seven diner-style booths complete with chunky, wall-mounted jukeboxes along one side, and a long counter with swivel stools along the other where patrons dine on burgers, beer, sandwiches, all-day breakfasts, coffee, and all the typical diner fare. However, a quick peak at the menu reveals something different: A diner with conscience.

The focus is on burgers and breakfast: organic and local burgers and breakfasts that is. There are three basic types of burgers on the menu—portabello mushroom (vegetarian), 100% beef, or chicken—which you can then dress up to your liking with a variety of toppings. All the ingredients are organic and locally-sourced. The burgers come with a side of local organic greens, french fries, garlic mashed potatoes or the soup of the day. For a couple of dollars more, you can upgrade your side dish to a vegetarian chilli or a poutine. Poutine? In Vancouver?

My dining choice was obvious: A 777 organic beef burger and poutine! According to the menu the poutine is made with French fries, aged cheddar cheese and vegan mushroom gravy. Not exactly a traditional poutine, but definitely a tasty choice. Although a bit on the salty side, the mushroom gravy tasted like a classic ‘sauce brun’; and paired well with the aged cheddar for a strong flavourful mouthful. The burger was large and juicy, topped with bright lettuce, tomato and onion. Exactly what I expected.

For a diner, The Templeton has a wide variety of vegetarian choices and is conscious to include vegan options as well. Some examples include Three-Cheese Organic Macaroni, Vegan Lentil Loaf and Pesto Grilled Veggie Lasagna. All veg*n dishes, including the portabello mushroom burger, are cooked separately from the meat dishes. This is a rarity among mixed restaurants, in my observation. If fish is more your thing, The Templeton has that too, including beer battered fish and chips from sustainable catches and tuna steak. Other diner offerings include salads and grilled sandwiches.

Templeton offers breakfast until 3pm. I had the pleasure of watching plates of pancakes, eggs and French toast float past me. Their “Mangled Eggs’ is described on the menu as bacon, scrambled eggs , and Montreal brie inside a toasted croissant, with a side order of rosemary potatoes (hmm More Montreal fare); and yes, the bacon is organic. You can substitute veggie bacon. Other breakfast offerings include huevos rancheros, farmer’s breakfast with sausages, tofu scrambler, omelettes, cereals, fresh fruit and more. Weekend brunches add a selection of “Benny’s”, or Eggs Benedict, to the menu as well as steak and eggs.

Well stuffed on my burger and poutine, I passed on deserts, which included a hot fudge brownie, vegan pear crisp, and blueberry mango crumble. The regular desert menu included deep fried Mars bars, which I haven’t seen on a menu since Scotland, and deep-fried Wunderbars. I was sad to pass them up.

Service was fast and friendly. The staff is clearly passionate about food. Following my meal, I had a fabulous discussion about local sustainable fare with my server, who herself was vegetarian. She also offered up a few other inexpensive restaurant suggestions to try in my quest for sustainable food choices in Vancouver, and also recommended some vendors to visit at the Granville Island market.

Assuming you get a straight meal at The Templeton, expect to spend about $15 after taxes excluding drinks. Breakfasts are a bit less. Deserts run about $5 each. A pint of brew will set you back a fiver, or try the local cider for abut a dollar more. Definitely a deal for guilt-free fare.

The Templeton
1087 Granville Street
Vancouver, BC V6Z 1L4
(604) 685-4612

Friday, May 8, 2009

SAQ Gets Into Organic

I was over-the-moon last month to discover a small selection of organic wines at my local SAQ. I've been importing my organic wines from south of the border, two bottles at a time, regularly for the past couple of years now, and I hardly live in a foodie or hip area of the city, so this discovery was quite a big deal for me. According to the sales associate at the store, the SAQ has committed to having a selection of organic or 'eco-pratique' wines in every SAQ location. Eco-pratique refers to wines sold in alternative packaging like tetra-paks, aluminum or plastic.

The SAQ has actually had organic wines for a little while, but only at certain locations. Even then, their selection was slim and out of the price range of the typical imbiber at $20+ per bottle. Most of the wines were also European and, I found, not nearly as good as the lower-priced Californian and South American organic wines I was picking up at Whole Foods or local co-operatives in New England for $7-15. (It may just be a preference: I have to admit I much prefer conventional Australian and Californian wines over most European ones I've tried anyway.)

The SAQ still doesn't have the same variety as in New England, however the price and selection are considerably better than what was available even six months ago. This Saturday and Sunday, May 9th and 10th, the SAQ is offering 10% off their organic and eco-pratique selections of wine, just in time for Mother's Day. Prices should start at about $11 per bottle for the eco-pratique varieties and $13 per bottle for the organic varieties. That's not much more than what you'd pay for table plonk from the local grocery store once you factor in taxes. So why not check the selection at the SAQ and let them know you support their decision to try organic.

(Now if we can just get them to carry fair trades wines or organic single malt scotch...)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Local and Organic (mostly) in Lasalle

The other night, I had the pleasure of dining at a new family-run restaurant in Lasalle. Not feeling like cooking, I quickly browsed the Internet to see if I could find somewhere new instead of one of my usual haunts. The description of Byla Byla in Lasalle caught my eye:

"Our meals are made as much as possible from fresh local, seasonal, organic and preservative-free ingredients. Most of what we make is fabricated in-house. We do this because we can’t imagine doing anything else [...]".

Okay... local... organic... and in Lasalle? How can I resist that? My partner and I packed into the car and headed west. We were not disappointed. The food was amazing. It easily rivaled the offerings commonly found at the more upscale downtown or St-Denis street bistros, and at half the price!

The opening carrot soup was rich and creamy with a hint of coriander without being overwhelming. The chef's salad was equally impressive: a mouth-watering mix of fresh greens, including water cress, artfully presented and served with a balsamic vinaigrette.

For the main courses, my partner's steak was cooked exactly as ordered and he declared that it was quite possibly one of the best three he's ever had in his life. It was served with a rapini ratatouille on a hot cast iron plate fitting into a cork server which kept the steak warm throughout the meal. Our only disappointment was that the steak was was not local, it came from Alberta; but there was certainly no criticising the quality of the meat or its preparation.

My own choice was the Cornish hen. We were told that it would take about half an hour to prepare, and it was well worth the wait. The meat was rich and moist, almost falling of the bone. The outside was subtly crispy. It was served with the same rapini ratatouille as the steak.

After this feast, we were so stuffed we didn't sample the deserts, although they all sounded wonderful. We also declined on the coffee, which we were told is direct-trade from a farm in South America.

It's not cheap, but it's not unreasonable either. They only offer a table d'hote and it's about $20/per person in the evening; less a lunchtime. Servings are plentiful; neither of us finished our meals. Wine prices are close to SAQ prices, with bottles starting at 16$. Service was excellent.

We visited on a Saturday night, and sadly were only one of three couples in the restaurant. Given the quality and price of the food, it really deserves to be busier than they were. So if you're looking for good food in the west end, consider paying them a visit.

Byla Byla is at 1395 Dollard Street in Lasalle, in a strip mall at the end of the shopping area of the street, just before LaVerendrye.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Making Sustainable Seafood Choices

I picked up Bottom Feeder by Taras Grescoe this week. It's a topic dear to my heart and a book I wish I'd written myself. A paragraph from the promo description of the book hits the proverbial nail on the head with the paradox that has become modern sea food production and comsumption:

"Just when opting for omega-3-rich seafood is being recognized as one of the healthiest dietary choices a person can make, the news seems to be full of stories about mercury-laden tuna, shrimp contaminated with antibiotics, and collapsing fish stocks. In a world of endangered cod, pirate-caught Chilean sea bass, and sea-lice-infested salmon, can we really continue to order the catch of the day in good conscience?"

I'm looking forward to reading a Canadian's (Montreal even!) perspective on the state of the world's fish and seafood. The last really good, and accessible, read I saw on this topic was The End of the Line (2006) by Charles Clover, the environment editor at The Daily Telegraph in the UK. In it, he examines fisheries industries worldwide, and how fish get from the ocean to our plates. It was an eye-opener, even for me who has covered scientific sessions on this topic. The book is now also available in french.

During my last trip to the UK in December 2008, I noticed a dramatic change in how fish was sold and marketed, compared to my previous visit only 18 months earlier. Information on sustainable seafood was everywhere: magazines, newspapers, and even featured on food reality shows. The fresh fish at the local supermarket, as well as a lot of the frozen choices, were clearly labelled with where and how the fish was caught. Even the UK Times' annual round-up of the top 10 fish and chip shops included consideration of the establishments' "committment to building a sustainable future for the industry by sourcing their fish from well-managed stocks" when producing their chippie ranking.

It's at time like these I feel that Canada is really quite backwards... or at least severely lagging behind the curve. So far as far as I can tell, President's Choice is the only big Canadian company to get into the sustainable seafood game. They have about half a dozen frozen products certified by the Marine Stewardship Council: tuna loins, black cod, salmon filets, smoked salmon, scallops. The much, much smaller Rainforest Trading also does sustainable canned tuna and salmon. It's also availble at some Loblaws.

To help Canadians make informed seafood choices, Seachoice has created a Canadian Seafood Guide. Monterey Bay Aquarium in the USA also produces information and guides through their Seafood Watch program. There guides are regional and there is one for the northeast USA that is especially pertinent to seafood in our area.